Mangala Sutta: Respect and Contentment

Venue: TIMS

Ven Aggacitta continues with the next two blessings based on the Mangala Sutta.

Respect and Humility

People who are arrogant and like to show off cannot respect others. They walk with their noses in the air, praise themselves and look down on others. In the Vinaya, The Buddha stresses a lot on respect and humility.

Before the Buddha allowed the Sangha to accept kutis offered to them, monks used to stay under trees or in caves. They used to wander from one place to another. Then someone asked the Buddha and obtained permission to build kutis for the monks to rest in. Once, while travelling, the Group of Six monks hurried ahead to get good kutis for themselves. Venerable Sariputta was at the back taking care of the bhikkhus. When he arrived, there were no more kutis so he stayed at the foot of a tree. When the Buddha knew about it, he called for a meeting to tell this story.

“Once upon a time, an elephant, a monkey and a quail lived in the forest, depending upon a huge banyan tree. One day they decided that it would be proper for them to respect one another so they tried to find out which among them was the most senior.

‘When I was small,’ said the elephant, ‘as I walked past this banyan tree, it tickled my belly.’

The monkey said, ‘When I was small, I could eat the young shoots of this tree, sitting down.’

The quail said, ‘Formerly there was a huge banyan tree at a certain place. I ate its fruits and defecated here. This tree grew from the seed in my droppings.’

The elephant and the monkey accepted that the quail was the most senior and they respected it.

Even animals know how to respect their seniors. Now, would it be proper for you who have gone forth in this well-proclaimed Dhamma-vinaya to dwell without respecting one another?”

The Buddha then laid down a rule that members of the Sangha now have to follow. Anything meant for the Sangha must be used according to seniority, which is based on the number of vassas a monk has. Even if a samanera had attained arahantship, he would still be junior to the monk who had more vassas. Senior bhikkhus should get requisites better than that of the junior monks. A newly ordained monk should serve his teacher, for example, by washing his robes. The teacher, in return, teaches him the Dhamma. If they stay in the same room, the novice must ask for permission before he does anything, even to open a  window, to use anything or to chant. All this requires a lot of humility.

Ven Rahula, the Buddha’s son, was born on the day Siddhattha Gotama renounced the world. After his enlightenment, the Buddha went back to his hometown and Rahula became a monk. Rahula was famous among the Sangha for his humility. One day, the monks wanted to test him. After sweeping, they purposely left the broom and the basket by the pathway. When asked who the culprit was, some said that they saw Rahula passing by. When Rahula heard that, he did not argue. Instead, he asked for forgiveness and picked up the broom and the basket and kept them as though he was the one who had left the things behind.

Venerable Sariputta was the Buddha’s most intelligent and wise disciple but he was a bit sloppy in the way he wore his robe. One day a samanera pointed out to him that he had not worn his robe properly. Venerable Sariputta was so humble that he immediately went to a corner to adjust his robe, and then came back to ask the samanera, “Teacher, is it all right now?

When I was young my family employed a person to do the household washing. We were trained by our very strict parents to greet her whenever she came to our house and she was very happy. She praised us and told my Mum that kids in other houses would just ignore her and look down on her.

Conceit and humility are related to confidence and diffidence. A person who is over confident is usually arrogant. He does not listen to others because he thinks that everything he does is always right. On the other hand, a person who is diffident will ask for others’ opinions before he does anything in order not to get the blame if anything goes wrong. There should be a balance between these two. Everybody makes mistakes; one must have integrity and be honest with oneself. Sometimes we are right but sometimes we are wrong. Humility is very important. One who is humble, well mannered and respectful of elders will prosper in this life and people will respect him. Humility is a blessing. One who is humble will be born in a family of a higher standing in his next life.


The opposite of contentment is greed or non-contentment. Another aspect of contentment is ostentation or a liking to show off. Some people are not well to do but they try to compete with their neighbours in materialistic things, which is a waste of money. In the Dhammapada, it is stated:

Health is the greatest gain

Contentment is the greatest wealth

Intimacy is the greatest relative

Nibbana is the greatest happiness

Some people are rich but are inflicted with cancer so they cannot enjoy their wealth. A construction worker who does not earn much but is very healthy is better off. Some people are very rich but not content. Even if they were millionaires, they’d still want more

There must be a limit to contentment. One should not be easily contented in the pursuit of wisdom and education. Although some people with little education are more successful in life than another who has a Ph.D., they still send their children to universities or overseas to further their education. One must strive hard in education whether it is spiritual or worldly education. In spiritual education, we must not just learn the Dhamma. One should learn and practise it to eradicate defilements until one attains Nibbana.

A businessman must not be easily contented because he has a lot of responsibilities. But he must not be too busy lest he has no time for dana and meditation. One must not be easily contented in meditation too. During the 80’s there was a Frenchman from Canada practising meditation in the Mahasi centre in Yangon, Myanmar. He reached a stage wherein he felt very comfortable and light and there was no suffering. He saw light and he could see everything clearly. He was so contented he told me, “I have fulfilled my aim in meditation.” I explained to him that it was only the beginning and managed to convince him of the need to stay on. Unfortunately, his ticket to Canada was confirmed and his journey could not be postponed.

In meditation, it is very important for one to have a competent teacher for guidance. Sometimes one might think that one is not making any progress but actually one is. On the other hand, one might think that one is making progress but actually is not. To make progress, a meditator should obey his teacher and not be sceptical.

If there is no contentment, there can be a lot of dukkha in life. One might get involved in the share market and lose a lot of money. A family almost became bankrupt because of heavy losses in shares. Finally, the whole family committed suicide. All this happened because there was no contentment.

(To be continued)


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top
Scroll to Top